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Charles Buck Theological Dictionary


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Is any pain or affliction which a person designedly inflicts upon another; and, in a more restrained sense, the sufferings of Christians on account of their religion. Persecution is threefold.

1. Mental, when the spirit of a man rises up and opposes another.

2. Verbal, when men give hard words and deal in uncharitable censures.

3. Actual or open, by the hand, such as the dragging of innocent persons before the tribunal of Justice, Matthew 10:18 . The unlawfulness of persecution for conscience sake must appear plain to every one that possesses the least degree of thought or of feeling. "To banish, imprison, plunder, starve, hang, and burn men for religion, " says the shrewd Jortin, "is not the Gospel of Christ; it is the Gospel of the Devil. Where persecution begins, Christianity ends. Christ never used any thing that looked like force or violence, except once; and that was to drive bad men out of the temple, and not to drive them in." We know the origin of it to be from the prince of darkness, who began the dreadful practice in the first family on earth, and who, more or less, has been carrying on the same work ever since, and that almost among all parties. "Persecution for conscience sake, " says Dr. Doddridge, "is every way inconsistent, because,

1. It is founded on an absurd supposition, that one man has a right to judge for another in matters of religion.l

2. It is evidently opposite to that fundamental principle of morality; that we should do to others as we could reasonably desire they should do to us.

3. It is by no means calculated to answer the end which its patrons profess to intend by it.

4. It evidently tends to produce a great deal of mischief and confusion in the world.

5. The Christian religion must, humanly speaking, be not only obstructed, but destroyed, should persecuting principles universally prevail.

6. Persecution is so far from being required, or encouraged by the Gospel, that it is most directly contrary to many of its precepts, and indeed to the whole of it." The chief objects who have fell a prey to this diabolical spirit have been Christians; a short account of whose sufferings we shall here give, as persecuted by the Jews, Heathens, and those of the same name. Persecution of Christians by the Jews. Here we need not be copious, as the New Testament will inform the reader more particularly how the first Christians suffered for the cause of truth. Jesus Christ himself was exposed to it in the greatest degree. The four evangelists record the dreadful scenes, which need not here be enlarged on.

After his death, the apostles suffered every evil which the malice of the Jews could invent, and their mad zeal execute. They who read the Acts of the Apostles, will find that, like their Master, they were despised and rejected of men, and treated with the utmost indignity and contempt. II. Persecution of Christians by the Heathen. Historians usually reckon ten general persecutions, the first of which was under the emperor Nero, thirty-one years after our Lord's ascension, when that emperor, having set fire to the city of Rome, threw the odium of that execrable action on the Christians. First. Those were apprehended who openly avowed themselves to be of that sect; then by them were discovered an immense multitude, all of whom were convicted. Their death and tortures were aggravated by cruel derision and sport; for they were either covered with the skins of wild beasts and torn in pieces by devouring dogs, or fastened to crosses, and wrapped up in combustible garments, that, when the day-light failed, they might, like torches, serve to dispel the darkness of the night. For this tragical spectacle Nero lent his own gardens; and exhibited at the same time the public diversions of the circus; sometimes driving a chariot in person, and sometimes standing as a spectator, while the shrieks of women burning to ashes supplied music for his ears.

2. The second general persecution was under Domitian, in the year 95, when 40, 000 were supposed to have suffered martyrdom.

3. The third began in the third year of Trajan, in the year 100, and was carried on with great violence for several years.

4. The fourth was under Antoninus, when the Christians were banished from their houses, forbidden to show their heads, reproached, beaten, hurried from place to place, plundered, imprisoned, and stoned.

5. The fifth began in the year 127, under Severus, when great cruelties were committed. In this reign happened the martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas, and their companions. Perpetua had an infant at the breast, and Felicitas was just delivered at the time of their being put to death. These two beautiful and amiable young women, mothers of infant children, after suffering much in prison, were exposed before an insulting multitude to a wild cow, who mangled their bodies in a most horrid manner: after which they were carried to a conspicuous place, and put to death by the sword.

6. The sixth began with the reign of Maximinus, in 235.

7. The seventh, which was the most dreadful ever known, began in 250, under the emperor Decius, when the christians were in all places driven from their habitations, stripped of their estates, tormented with racks, &c.

8. The eighth began in 257, under Valerian. Both men and women suffered death, some by scourging, some by the sword, and some by fire.

9. The ninth was under Aurelian, in 274; but this was inconsiderable, compared with the others before-mentioned.

10. The tenth began in the nineteenth year of Dioclesian, 303. In this dreadful persecution, which lasted ten years, houses filled with Christians were set on fire, and whole droves were tied together with ropes, and thrown into the sea. It is related that 17, 000 were slain in one month's time; and that during the continuance of this persecution, in the province of Egypt alone, no less than 144, 000 Christians died by the violence of their persecutors; besides 700, 000 that died through the fatigues of banishment, or the public works to which they were condemned. III. Persecution of Christians by those of the same name. Numerous were the persecutions of different sects from Constantine's time to the reformation; but when the famous Martin Luther arose, and opposed the errors and ambition of the church of Rome, and the sentiments of this good man began to spread, the pope and his clergy joined all their forces to hinder their progress. A general council of the clergy was called: this was the famous council of Trent, which was held for near eighteen successive years, for the purpose of establishing popery in greater splendour, and preventing the reformation.

The friends to the reformation were anathematized and excommunicated, and the life of Luther was often in danger, though at last he died on the bed of peace. From time to time innumerable schemes were suggested to overthrow the reformed church, and wars were set on foot for the same purpose. The invincible armada, as it was vainly called, had the same end in view. The inquisition, which was established in the twelfth century against the Waldenses (

See INQUISITION) was not more effectually set to work. Terrible persecutions were carried on in various parts of Germany, and even in Bohemia, which continued about thirty years, and the blood of the saints was said to flow like rivers of water. The countries of Poland, Lithuania, and Hungary, were in a similar manner deluged with Protestant blood. In HOLLAND, and in the other Low Countries, for many years the most amazing cruelties were exercised under the merciless and unrelenting hands of the Spaniards, to whom the inhabitants of that part of the world were then in subjection. Father Paul observes, that these Belgic martyrs were 50, 000; but Grotius and others observe, that there were 100, 000 who suffered by the hand of the executioner.

Herein, however, Satan and his agents failed of their purpose; for in the issue great part of the Netherlands shook off the Spanish yoke, and erected themselves into a separate and independent state, which has ever since been considered as one of the principal Protestant countries of the universe. FRANCE. No country, perhaps, has ever produced more martyrs than this. After many cruelties had been exercised against the Protestants, there was a most violent persecution of them in the year 1572, in the reign of Charles IX. Many of the principal Protestants were invited to Paris under a solemn oath of safety, upon occasion of the marriage of the king of Navarre with the French king's sister. The queen dowager of Navarre, a zealous Protestant, however, was poisoned by a pair of gloves before the marriage was solemnized. Coligni, admiral of France, was basely murdered in his own house, and then thrown out of the window to gratify the malice of the duke of Guise: his head was afterwards cut off, and sent to the king and queen-mother; and his body, after a thousand indignities offered to it, hung by the feet on a gibbet. After this the murderers ravaged the whole city of Paris, and butchered in three days, above ten thousand lords, gentlemen, presidents, and people of all ranks.

A horrible scene of things, says Thuanus, when the very streets and passengers resounded with the noise of those that met together for murder and plunder; and groans of those who were dying, and the shrieks of such as were just going to be butchered, were everywhere heard; the bodies of the slain thrown out of the windows; the courts and chambers of the houses filled with them; the dead bodies of others dragged through the streets; their blood running through the channels in such plenty, that torrents seemed to empty themselves in the neighbouring river, in a word, an innumerable multitude of men, women with child, maidens, and children, were all involved in one common destruction; and the gates and entrances of the king's palace all besmeared with their blood. From the city of Paris the massacre spread throughout the whole kingdom. In the city of Meaux they threw above two hundred into gaol; and after they had ravished and killed a great number of women, and plundered the houses of the Protestants, they executed their fury on those they had imprisoned; and calling them one by one, they were killed, as Thuanus expresses, like sheep in a market. In Orleans they murdered above five hundred, men, women, and children, and enriched themselves with the spoil.

The same cruelties were practised at Angers, Troyes, Bouges, La Charite, and especially at Lyons, where they inhumanly destroyed above eight hundred Protestants; children hanging on their parents's necks; parents embracing their children; putting ropes about the necks of some, dragging them through the streets, and throwing them, mangled, torn, and half dead, into the river. According to Thuanus, above 30, 000 Protestants were destroyed in this massacre; or, as others affirm, above 100, 000. But what aggravates these scenes with still greater wantonness and cruelty, was, the manner in which the news was received at Rome. When the letters of the pope's legate were read in the assembly of the cardinals, by which he assured the pope that all was transacted by the express will and command of the king, it was immediately decreed that the pope should march with his cardinals to the church of St. Mark, and in the most solemn manner give thanks to God for so great a blessing conferred on the see of Rome and the Christian world; and that, on the Monday after, solemn mass should be celebrated in the church of Minerva, at which the pope, Gregory, XIII. and cardinals were present; and that a jubilee should be published throughout the whole Christian world, and the cause of it declared to be, to return thanks to God for the extirpation of the enemies of the truth and church in France. In the evening the cannon of St. Angelo were fired to testify the public joy; the whole city illuminated with bonfires; and no one sign of rejoicing omitted that was usually made for the greatest victories obtained in favour of the Roman church!!! But all these persecutions were, however, far exceeded in cruelty by those which took place in the time of Louis XIV.

It cannot be pleasant to any man's feelings, who has the least humanity, to recite these dreadful scenes of horror, cruelty, and devastation; but to show what superstition, bigotry, and fanaticism are capable of producing, and for the purpose of holding up the spirit of persecution to contempt, we shall here give as concise a detail as possible. The troopers, soldiers, and dragoons, went into the Protestants' houses, where they marred and defaced their household stuff; broke their looking- glasses and other utensils; threw about their corn and wine; sold what they could not destroy; and thus, in four or five days, the Protestants were stripped of above a million of money. But this was not the worst: they turned the dining rooms of gentlemen into stables for horses, and treated the owners of the houses where they quartered with the greatest cruelty, lashing them about, not suffering them to eat or drink. When they saw the blood and sweat run down their faces, they sluiced them with water, and, putting over their heads kettle-drums turned upside down, they made a continual din upon them till these unhappy creatures lost their senses. At Negreplisse, a town near Montaubon, they hung up Isaac Favin, a Protestant citizen of that place, by his arm-pits, and tormented him a whole night by pinching and tearing off his flesh with pincers.

They made a great fire round about a boy, twelve years old, who, with hands and eyes lifted up to heaven, cried out, "My God, help me!" and when they found the youth resolved to die rather than renounce his religion, they snatched him from the fire just as he was on the point of being burnt. In several places the soldiers applied red hot irons to the hands and feet of men, and the breasts of women. At Nantes, they hung up several women and maids by their feet, and others by their arm-pits, and thus exposed them to public view stark naked. They bound mothers, that gave suck, to posts, and let their sucking infants lie languishing in their sight for several days and nights, crying and gasping for life. Some they bound before a great fire, and, being half toasted, let them go; a punishment worse than death. Amidst a thousand hideous cries, they hung up men and women by the hair, and some by their feet, on hooks in chimneys, and smoked them with wisps of wet hay till they suffocated. They tied some under the arms with ropes, and plunged them again and again into wells; they bound others, put them to torture, and with a funnel filled them with wine till the fumes of it took away their reason, when they made them say they consented to be Catholics. They stripped them naked, and, after a thousand indignities, stuck them with pins and needles from head to foot. In some places they tied fathers and husbands to their bed-posts, and, before their eyes, ravished their wives and daughters with impunity.

They blew up men and women with bellows till they burst them. If any, to escape these barbarities, endeavoured to save themselves by flight, they pursued them into the fields and woods, where they shot at them, like wild beasts, and prohibited them from departing the kingdom (a cruelty never practised by Nero or Dioclesian, ) upon pain of confiscation of effects, the galleys, the lash, and perpetual imprisonment. With these scenes of desolation and horror the popish clergy feasted their eyes, and made only matter of laughter and sport of them!!! ENGLAND has also been the seat of much persecution. Though Wickliffe, the first reformer, died peaceably in his bed, yet such was the malice and spirit of persecuting Rome, that his bones were ordered to be dug up, and cast upon a dunghill. The remains of this excellent man were accordingly dug out of the grave, where they had lain undisturbed four-and-forty years. His bones were burnt, and the ashes cast into an adjoining brook. In the reign of Henry VIII. Bilney, Bayman, and many other reformers were burnt; but when queen Mary came to the throne, the most severe persecutions took place. Hooper and Rogers were burnt in a slow fire. Saunders was cruelly tormented a long time at the stake before he expired. Taylor was put into a barrel of pitch, and fire set to it. Eight illustrious persons, among whom was Ferrar, bishop of St. David's, were sought out, and burnt by the infamous Bonner in a few days. Sixty-seven persons were this year, A. D. 1555, burnt, amongst whom were the famous Protestants, Bradford, Ridley, Latimer, and Philpot.

In the following year, 1556, eighty-five persons were burnt. Women suffered; and one, in the flames, which burst her womb, being near her time of delivery, a child fell from her into the fire, which being snatched out by some of the observers more humane that the rest, the magistrate ordered the babe to be again thrown into the fire, and burnt. Thus even the unborn child was burnt for heresy! O God, what is human nature when left to itself! Alas! dispositions ferocious as infernal then reign, and usurp the heart of man! The queen erected a commission court, which was followed by the destruction of near eighty more. Upon the whole, the number of those who suffered death for the reformed religion in this reign, were no less that two hundred and seventy-seven persons; of whom were five bishops, twenty-one clergymen, eight gentlemen, eight-four tradesmen, one hundred husbandmen, labourers, and servants, fifty-five women, and four children. Besides these, there were fifty-four more under prosecution, seven of whom were whipped, and sixteen perished in prison. Nor was the reign of Elizabeth free from this persecuting spirit. If any one refused to consent to the least ceremony in worship, he was cast into prison, where many of the most excellent men in the land perished.

Two Protestant Anabaptists were burnt, and many banished. She also, it is said, put two Brownists to death; and though her whole reign was distinguished for its political prosperity, yet it is evident that she did not understand the rights of conscience; for it is said that more sanguinary laws were made in her reign than in any of her predecessors, and her hands were stained with the blood both of Papists and Puritans. James I. succeeded Elizabeth; he published a proclamation, commanding all Protestants to conform strictly, and without any exception, to all the rites and ceremonies of the church of England. Above five hundred clergy were immediately silenced, or degraded, for not complying. Some were excommunicated, and some banished the country. The Dissenters were distressed, censured, and fined, in the Star-chamber. Two persons were burnt for heresy, one at Smithfield, and the other at Litchfield. Worn out with endless vexations, and unceasing persecutions, many retired into Holland, and from thence to America. It is witnessed by a judicious historian, that, in this and some following reigns, 22, 000 persons were banished from England by persecution to America. In Charles the First's time arose the persecuting Laud, who was the occasion of distress to numbers. Dr. Leighton, for writing a book against the hierarchy, was fined ten thousand pounds, perpetual imprisonment, and whipping. He was whipped, and then placed in the pillory; one of his ears cut off, one side of his nose slit; branded on the cheek with a red hot iron, with the letters S. S. whipped a second time, and placed in the pillory.

A fortnight afterwards, his sores being yet uncured, he had the other ear cut off, the other side of his nose slit, and the other cheek branded. He continued in prison till the long parliament set him at liberty. About four years afterwards, William Prynn, a barrister, for a book he wrote against the sports on the Lord's day, was deprived from practising at Lincoln's Inn, degraded from his degree at Oxford, set in the pillory, had his ears cut off, imprisoned for life, and fined five thousand pounds. Nor were the Presbyterians, when their government came to be established in England, free from the charge of persecution. In 1645 an ordinance was published, subjecting all who preached or wrote against the Presbyterian directory for public worship to a fine not exceeding fifty pounds; and imprisonment for a year, for the third offence, in using the episcopal book of common prayer, even in a private family. In the following year the Presbyterians applied to Parliament, pressing them to enforce uniformity in religion, and to extirpate popery, prelacy, heresy, schism, &c. but their petition was rejected; yet in 1648 the parliament, ruled by them, published an ordinance against heresy, and determined that any person who maintained, published, or defended the following errors, should suffer death. These errors were.

1. Denying the being of a God.

2. Denying his omnipresence, omniscience, &c.

3. Denying the Trinity in any way.

4. Denying that Christ had two natures.

5. Denying the resurrection, the atonement, the Scriptures. In Charles the Second's reign the act of uniformity passed, by which two thousand clergymen were deprived of their benefices. Then followed the conventicle act, and the Oxford act, under which, it is said, eight thousand persons were imprisoned and reduced to want, and many to the grave. In this reign also, the Quakers were much persecuted, and numbers of them imprisoned. Thus we see how England had bled under the hand of bigotry and persecution; nor was toleration enjoyed until William III. came to the throne, who showed himself a warm friend to the rights of conscience. The accession of the present royal family was auspicious to religious liberty; and as their majesties have always befriended the toleration, the spirit of persecution has been long curbed. IRELAND has likewise been drenched with the blood of the Protestants, forty or fifty thousand of whom were cruelly murdered in a few days, in different parts of the kingdom, in the reign of Charles I. It began on the 23d of October, 1641. Having secured the principal gentlemen, and seized their effects, they murdered the common people in cold blood, forcing many thousands to fly from their houses and settlements naked into the bogs and woods, where they perished with hunger and cold.

Some they whipped to death, others they stripped naked, and exposed to shame, and then drove them like herds of swine to perish in the mountains: many hundreds were drowned in rivers, some had their throats cut, others were dismembered. With some the execrable villians made themselves sport, trying who could hack the deepest into an Englishman's flesh: wives and young virgins abused in the presence of their nearest relations; nay, they taught their children to strip and kill the children of the English, and dash out their brains against the stones. Thus many thousands were massacred in a few days, without distinction of age, sex, or quality, before they suspected their danger, or had time to provide for their defence. SCOTLAND, SPAIN, &c. Besides the above-mentioned persecutions, there have been several others carried on in different parts of the world. Scotland for many years together has been the scene of cruelty and blood-shed, till it was delivered by the monarch at the revolution. Spain, Italy, and the valley of Piedmont, and other places, have been the seats of much persecution. Popery, we see has had the greatest hand in this mischievous work. It has to answer, also, for the lives of millions of Jews, Mahometans, and barbarians. When the Moors conquered Spain, in the eighth century, they allowed the Christians the free exercise of their religion; but in the fifteenth century, when the Moors were overcome, and Ferdinand subdued the Moriscoes, the descendants of the above Moors, many thousands were forced to be baptised, or burnt, massacred, or banished, and the children sold for slaves; besides innumerable Jews, who shared the same cruelties, chiefly by means of the infernal courts of inquisition.

A worst slaughter, if possible, was made among the natives of Spanish America, where fifteen millions are said to have been sacrificed to the genius of popery in about forty years. It has been computed that fifty millions of Protestants have at different times been the victims of the persecutions of the Papists, and put to death for their religious opinions. Well, therefore, might the inspired penman say, that at mystic Babylon's destruction, 'was found in her the blood of prophets, of saints, and of all that was slain upon the earth, ' Revelation 18:24 . To conclude this article, Who can peruse the account here given without feeling the most painful emotions, and dropping a tear over the madness and depravity of mankind? Does it not show us what human beings are capable of when influenced by superstition, bigotry, and prejudice?

Have not these baneful principles metamorphosed men into infernals; and entirely extinguished all the feelings of humanity, the dictates of conscience, and the voice of reason? Alas! what has sin done to make mankind such curses to one another? Merciful God! by they great power suppress this worst of all evils, and let truth and love, meekness and forbearance universally prevail! Limborch's Introduction to his History of the Inquisition; Memoirs of the Persecutions of the Protestants in France by Lewis De Enarolles; Comber's History of the Parisian Massacre of St. Bartholomew; A. Robinson's History of Persecution; Lockman's History of Popish Persec. Clark's Looking-Glass for Persecutors; Doddridge's Sermon on Persecution; Jortin's ditto, ser. 9. vol. 4: Bower's Lives of the Popes; Fox's Martyrs; Woodrow's History of the Sufferings of the Church of Scotland; Neal's History of the Puritans, and of New England; History of the Bohemian Persecutions.

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Bibliography Information
Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Persecution'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. 1802.

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